Reflections on the River


Our summer vacation was a significant change from what we normally do—I will admit, it was way out of my comfort zone, and honestly not how I wanted to spend summer vacation (but loved the idea of doing something different, and seeing a new part of the country I have not seen before).  Each summer we go to Martha’s Vineyard, it is a tradition we all love and holds so many special memories for us, this tradition will always be our summer vacation and a staple in our family.  This year, however, my husband Charlie and his Dad & sister, wanted to go back to the River Trip, a trip the 3 of them took twice, over 30 years ago—the trip is in Idaho, by a company called Oars.  It was a healing trip for them, as we lost my mother in law almost a year ago, and it was something my father in law could look forward to (at 84, it was an adventure for him).  It is a 4 day trip down the lower salmon river in Idaho, also known as the river of no return—with 3 teenagers, we knew it would be an excellent opportunity to bond as a family, and I was most excited about none of us having our phones, we were 100% unplugged.    Oh, make that our 3 teens and a boyfriend!  :)

I was reluctant but held that in for the most part, I voiced my concern to my husband that having no bathroom (toilet/shower) and sleeping in a tent was something I was not comfortable with and it was almost a reason for me to say, “no way.”  But, this has been the year of “yes” for me.  I have been trying to say yes to things that either push me, help me live in the moment and challenge me to break out of old patterns and the idea of “someday”.  The past few years have been filled with a lot of grief, much sadness, challenges both personally and in business, and for sure I have had better days.  This trip was not for me, it was for my father in law, his kids and my kids—I was “taking one for the team."   Up until a few weeks before the trip, I did not realize it was “White Water Rafting,” say what!?  I said to my husband Charlie, "you mean we are going to be in whitewater rapids", I have never done that nor do I want to do that (my fear and anxiety escalated and was it not only the accommodations that concerned me, but also the thought of being scared and afraid of the rapids).  My father in law assured me, I would be fine, the lower salmon is not as aggressive as the upper salmon, and I could go in the boats that felt safer.  Off to REI I went, buying things I don’t particularly like, nor did I want, including the tan bucket hat!  Rather than complain, I just rolled with it and had fun, making fun of myself and also putting myself into a look and feel that just does not suit me.  Calgon, take me away!  

When we arrived at the river and were getting ready to launch with the large group of 24 people (11 of which were my family—including 6 teenagers).  One of our Guides Kale (this guy is a dude, dreadlocks, athletic, and clearly an outdoorsman), gave us the Safety talk, he had to cover every possible scenario and what can happen, this sent me into panic mode, smiling on the outside, but inside my anxiety and fear was at an all-time high.  I was considering not going (a conversation with myself in my head) because once you are on the River, you are stuck, and can’t get off for 4 days (the girl that likes to feel in control was suddenly feeling so out of control).  I coached myself through it and decided I was in.  I immediately went up to Kale and shared that this was not my thing, I was only there for my family, and I was concerned about the rapids, and want the most conservative boat and ride.  He assured me I would be okay, and just to hold on tight—I ended up in his boat, and I am confident he was beginning to think “oh damn, she’s with me,” but to me, he was kind, assuring and chill.   I held on tight on the back of his raft, and it was fun, it was not scary at all. The beauty of the river, mountains, and scenery I am not used to, took over. I reminded myself to be here, be in the moment, and think positive (it was all mindset), this is an incredible opportunity, and I am going to be fine.   

We arrived at Camp, I decided to SUP (stand up paddle board), which was fun, and doing so on the river with the current was a small challenge, but doable.  Hanging in the water, gathering as a family, meeting the others, and chilling out was relaxing and fun.  The food was terrific, and our first night we had Salmon with summer salad and veggies.  The guides encouraged us to sleep under the stars, the weather was beautiful, so we all decided to do just that.  While it was cool, I will admit, I had a hard time falling asleep, and could not get out of my head (bugs, snakes, bears, oh my)!  The next two nights I slept in my tent, but also enjoyed the big sky before bed.   Having no bathroom, no shower, no means of my usual hygiene routine was hard for me, but I did okay, and that practice alone was a good reminder of how simple life can be, and that we only really need the essentials (even though I love beautiful things and lovely accommodations).  The toilet was called the “groover,” a bucket if you will, it was my least favorite part, but like life, you have to do what you have to do—and that I did.   Shit happens, literally!  

On the rafts & boats, I found myself really loving the rapids, it was fun, and I was now embracing it all and feeling more adventurous.  Riding the waves, and going with the flow, it truly helps be it on the river or in life.  One of the Kayaks flipped (very common), and they needed a new person for it, I wanted to do it, but was afraid, I spoke up and said “I will do it,” and at that moment, I let my brave voice speak over my fearful one.   I was truly becoming one with the River and embracing this experience rather than resisting it.   Practicing yoga for 10+ years kicked in, I used breathing techniques, I used my body (hello core), and I stayed in the moment, one rapid at a time, enjoying the beauty, the challenge, and letting go of fear because fear is a liar.  If I fall out, I will get back in.  I loved the Kayak, and remained calm and clear on the rapids—this was a significant progression for me on the trip, each morning and afternoon I would find myself progressing more, and letting the layers of the world fall off. 

Campfire songs, s’mores, new friendships, quality time with family, and guides that are amazing human beings started to fill the walls of the Canyon.  A short yet challenging hike to look over the River was yet another progression, and seeing my kids at the top, knowing someday they might be there with their children gave me chills on my sweaty body (as my husband was there with his sister 30 years ago).   Sounds of laughter, conversation and connection like we had not seen in years (that time before my kids had cell phones).  My 13-year-old niece said it reminded her of when they were little at our old house, and how they played together.  I could not agree more, as much as I loved so much about the River, the connection with each other, and no technology truly was the best part.  We had many laughs, we sang, I even heard John Denver, and I sang every word, reminding me of my Dad, and how he played his tapes over and over (I have not listened to this music in more than 25 years).  My parents were there with me, through music, breezes and the big sky at night.  The first night there was one shining star (before the sky opened up), I knew in my heart this star was my mother in law, I know she was with us in spirit, shining brightly over her most cherished people.  

Not only was it an amazing family vacation, but it was also transformational for me.   Breakthrough of fear, and expanding my circle of comfort.  Sometimes it is nice just to try another way, and seek new experiences.  Will I be a big outdoor girl, camping and such?   Most likely not…. Will I make a trip like this again, absolutely!  My entire family LOVED it, even my daughter who is a lot like her Mom.  We all loved seeing our “Bumpa” enjoy his river trip, how brave of him to do it again at age 84, seeing he was 55 the last time he was on the River.   I will admit I was thrilled to get back to the hotel to shower and have the bathroom facilities—I took my water shoes off in the shower because I had a lot of sand in my shoes.   As I showered and enjoyed the fresh, clean feeling and water pouring over my head, I looked down to see all the sand gathered and formed into the shape of a heart.  This spiritual girl knew that was a sign, a reflection of what you put in is what you get out.  Love was the catalyst for this trip, and God and the universe wanted to thank me and acknowledge me for leading with love.  When we lead with love, we bring our heart & soul on the journey—we practice patience, courage, faith, balance, passion, and compassion.  

Idaho and the Salmon River will always have a piece of my heart.   While I am back to life as I know it, I am reminded of the importance to unplug, connect with nature, try something new and make memories as we only have 18 summers, and this one is a monumental one!

Take me to the River….

Be Bold enough to try new things. Perhaps you are braver than you think.

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Pam Guyer